Tag Archives: Arcola Theatre

Theatre Review: Ghost From A Perfect Place (Arcola Theatre, London)

Florence Hall (centre) as Rio Sparks. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Florence Hall (centre) as Rio Sparks. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Rating: ****

In a Nutshell

Solid and enchanting writing skilfully produced, but just not as daring and dangerous as other Philip Ridley plays.


Grandma Sparks receives a visitor one evening, none other than East End mob boss Travis Flood, who has come out of hiding after many years. He’s here to see her granddaughter, Rio, leader of the violent local girl gang, The Disciples of St. Donna. But during his visit, Travis gets more than he bargained for, as this old school gangster clashes with new blood, and past wrongs come home to roost.


It’s hard to believe that this play is 20 years old, first getting its performance to great acclaim back in 1994. What’s astonishing is that it has lost very little of its sheen, even with the moral panic of violent girl gangs,  a very integral part of the plot, being somewhat dated. Yet two decades on, and with a new edition of the text, it’s still a vivid and rich play.

Ridley has come up with a watertight narrative, full of complex themes and abstracts, and with several quiet twists and turns that surprise or prompt little “aaah!” moments. Memories and the re-telling of them are often a key theme in a lot of Ridley’s works, and here is no different. It’s these scenes that are the most beguiling and entrancing, and really elevate the play from being something ordinary. The way these are written, and the deft handle of language, result in an ethereal and transient netherworld that flits in and out of ours and the characters’ reality; it’s transfixing, even if some of the points put across through them are more than unsavoury.

This a phenomenal sense of high poetry – tripping dexterously through metre, rhythm, and language – creates a dazzling aural kaleidoscope that is exhilarating: you hang on every word, especially when delivered with zeal and energy of the cast in this play. One particular moment, “The Sermon of St. Donna,” is nothing short of intoxicating, and really marks Ridley out as a genius playwright. What’s more, Ridley effortlessly puts wry humour, tension, and disturbing undercurrents in a headlock against each other, making this a fractured and unsettling piece. You never feel quite at ease even in the most lighter moments because of this constant juxtaposition of reality and dreams and truth and secrets shrouding foetid goings on.

However, there are a few criticisms to be had. For starters, the storyline is a little predictable and it doesn’t take much to figure out where the play is heading. Because of this, it doesn’t keep sense of unknowing mystery that would better drive the show as the comic-thriller it is. Furthermore, it’s just simply not as bold or as dangerous as his other plays. His first play, The Pitchfork Disney, had its first audience reportedly running from the Bush Theatre screaming in terror; I still get shivers thinking of Cosmo Disney’s “party trick” or Pitchfork’s “solo”. Then, there’s Mercury Fur: a sickening but perfect horror that took five years to convince the critics of it’s brilliance behind some of the most gruesome and perverse scenes to have graced the stage.

But that’s not to say that Ghost From A Perfect Place isn’t at all capricious and impacting. Gang culture is still a very real and spiky issue that hasn’t at all left us, and within the play are moments that are very violent and visceral, almost spitting at you and your comfort zones at point blank range. It still really challenges perceptions of gang culture and crime by exploring the tragic reasons youngsters turn to this sub-culture, savagely satirising the fanaticism of gang members that verges on the religious, and contrasting the misplaced romance of old mob-days with the gritty reality of the modern.

It might not be the best Ridley play, and those who have been thrilled by some of the many other new works and/or revivals of old ones might have their expectations of Ghost From a Perfect Place fall short. But that’s not to say it’s badly written: far from it. It just there’s just better Ridley out there.

Shelia Reid (left) and Michael Feast (right). Photograph: Courtesy of  Ben Broomfield.

Shelia Reid (left) and Michael Feast (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Production & Direction

This is a very slick production, giving Ghost From A Perfect Place the attention and quality it deserves. Russell Bolam has previously directed the award-winning Shivered, so already has experience of how to treat Ridley’s luscious text. He toys with pace and tempo excellently, really stringing the audience along with sudden builds of crescendo, and elsewhere swaggering among the at-odds humour of the piece. It’s great to see a director who understands not just the story, but the beat of the text itself.

He is also supported well by Anthony Lamble’s set, brimming with detail, helping us become absorbed in the squalid world and twisted turn of events. However, it’s Richard Hammarton’s sound design that is most striking. There are wonderfully subtle touches of slow-building music to support the growing intensity of some of the scenes, as well as some clever use of adding in reverberation to live sound to also achieve a sense of high drama, really bringing the piece to vibrant life.

Florence Hall as Rio. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.

Florence Hall as Rio. Photograph: Courtesy of Ben Broomfield.


Stealing the show are the three gang ladies: Florence Hall as Rio, Scarlett Brookes as Miss Sulphur, and Rachel Redford as Miss Kerosene. Even though they don’t appear until the second act, they drive the show with a vicious energy and a palpable animalistic cravenness. They work excellently well with each other to create an unpredictable tempest of fraying relationships and fuck-ups on the edge of reason, bouncing mercilessly off the differences of their personas. Hall is especially haunting, striding about inert and icy, curiously trying to comprehend the situation she’s been placed in, whilst desperately trying to keep control of herself, her status, and her ‘disciples’. It’s a wonderfully slow cracking of character that’s controlled and spine-tingling.

However, Michael Feast, as Travis Flood, sometimes breaks the suspension of disbelief in being a bit too much like a Victorian melodrama villain plopped in the middle of Eastenders. However, this might be more of a directional misstep that of Feast’s characterisations. It’s difficult to feel intimidated by someone who feels like a panto Ronnie Biggs, but when the show is all about the power shift from ageing gangster to unhinged “bimbos dressed in kitchen foil”, this might well be what Bolam is trying to get across. But at other times, Feast excels in smaller ticks and quirks in his performance that makes him a real treat to watch, especially what he does with his tongue! And even though you’re mostly not scared of him, because of these little garnishes, it’s when he his most vulnerable that he feels the most fiendish.


This is not the most astonishing or outstanding of Ridley’s play’s, but it’s far from bad: in fact, it’s incredibly good. It’s still challenging and daring, just not as much as some of his more renowned works. But with this good cast and slick production, it’s your personal expectation that’s the let down, not this otherwise thrilling and suitably twisted revival.

[youtube http://youtu.be/bnH2s98QUak]

Ghost From A Perfect Place plays at the Arcola Theatre, London, E8 3DL, until 11 October 2014.. Tickets are £19 (concessions available). To book, visit www.arcolatheatre.com.

Theatre Review: You Could Move (Arcola Tent, London)

Stand on the RIGHT! Promotional image for the production. Courtesy of Outbox LGB Theatre.

Stand on the RIGHT! Promotional image for the production. Courtesy of Outbox LGB Theatre.

Rating: ****

How far have we as an LGBT community actually come? And do we have much further to go? Outbox LGB Theatre presents a portrait of the LGBT in 2013 bringing together devised pieces, verbatim, and physical theatre.

The first thing you notice is Harry Whitham’s set; it’s simple and versatile consisting of several moveable doorways fitted with blinds and lit with strip lighting. As skeletal as this seems you quickly discover that anything more is unnecessary as the sketches, testimonies, and movement pieces speak for themselves and provide the play with its hook and drive. But through Ben Buratta’s direction, Coral Messam’s fluid movement pieces, and Dominic Kennedy’s crisp electronic soundtrack these insightful vignettes become wonderfully provocative.

These are then played out by a cast of talented young actors who take to the stage with energy, wit, and abandon. The verbatim speeches feel incredibly natural as if they were their own words, and their characters in the narrative pieces are not only believable but also fun and/or moving where they need to be.

But the real joys in this piece are the subject matters they deal with and the treatment they’re given. Buratta has a lucid sense of juxtaposition that flows throughout most of the show. Popular song lyrics are also given a blissful contextual twist when performed as spoken word, black voices will be given white mouthpieces, young ones old, male ones female, and vice-versa. This stylised approached of deliberate inconsistencies only served to heighten and bring attention to the issues.

There is also an astonishing breadth of subjects dealt with: subtle internalised homophobia, the ludicrousness of online cruising, HIV, the inequality of modern laws, and much more. Yet at no point does anything feel skipped through or shallow. The combination of personal testimonies and short skits manages to create something deep yet concise.

The only criticism is that the variety wears off as the play progresses towards the end of its 90 minutes running time without interval. After a while the pace and changes in theatrical treatment become almost formulaic and start to lose their punch. Thankfully the subject matters are intriguing enough to keep your interest despite this. It’s also a shame that there weren’t more movement pieces too; a piece midway through looking at religion and sexuality was particularly striking.

It’s troubling, though, that when watching this play you really do realise how much we in a modern more liberated LGBT community take for granted, especially the younger of us. Not to mention the unresolved issues we all often overlook. You Could Move reminds us that we forget, yet this production provides mere prompts rather than opting for being preachy. The result is a fresh and frank zeitgeist that’s enjoyably entertaining and enlightening.

You Could Move plays at the Arcola Tent, London, E8 3DL, until 20 April 2013. Tickets are £10. To book visit www.arcolatheatre.com. It will then tour to Contact Theatre, Manchester, M15 6JA for a performance on 27 April 2013. Tickets are £8 (concessions available). To book visit http://contactmcr.com.

Accents and Sensibility: Vox Pooped!

"How kind of you to let me come." Steady on, Audrey! Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady". Photograph: Everett Collection.

“How kind of you to let me come.” Steady on, Audrey! Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady”. Photograph: Everett Collection.

A while back I reviewed something that was overall a very good production. But I decided not to include one thing that really irked me – one of the actor’s accents.

The situation was that the entire cast were British with British accents bar one actor who was American and had a very strong American accent. Their acting was very solid, just their voice made them stand out like a sore thumb and really distracted me from the production.

Should I have mentioned this in my review, and if so, who should I have blamed?

There is an art to casting. People make entire professions out of it, especially in film. So would the casting director have to take the brunt? One thing I bore in mind was that this was a fringe production, and one of the main reasons I chose not to include it in my review. Fringe must be incredibly inventive by its very nature, due to being usually very strapped for cash, and find support and resources where it can, and would be incredibly insincere and nonconstructive to have moaned about a single actor’s accent. But I would be much less forgiving for something like this in a big West End production, especially when they the wealth of acting talent vying for roles like there’s no tomorrow. For fringe, where actors are usually paid in a profit share if at all, the pickings are a little slimmer to say the least. As I mentioned, the actor was good. If the decision came down to a good actor with a stand out accent, or a less talented actor with a local accent, I can’t blame the production team for plumping with the former.

But what about blaming the actor? Why couldn’t they just put on a British accent? Well, maybe because their British accent is appalling. The British public often mock American film stars for fluffing British accents, but the criticism goes both ways. I think a dodgy and forced British accent would have been more off putting than an America one. Also, sometimes a good actor’s skills can suffer from trying too hard to perfect the accent. This I felt happened with Joe McFadden in Torch Song Trilogy, which is a shame because when his accent was less convincing, his acting excelled.

But can’t the director and production team have done more to level out everyone’s accents? Voice coaches cost, and once again it’s a luxury the fringe can rarely afford. But sometimes it’s an expense that is really worth forking out for. Apart from being a really dreary musical, one of Goodbye Barcelona’s faults was that it clearly had a bad, or more likely (I hope) a lack of voice coaching. The result was with some of the Spanish characters’ accents sounding more Speedy Gonzales than Catalan freedom fighter, a flaw me and the friend I saw it have turned into a long running in-joke.

But maybe we as an audience should be trying a little harder. The production in question was actually set in Germany. Why not have the entire cast speaking in German accents for the sake of being more believable and authentic/pedantic? If our capacity to suspend belief will stretch to making British accents of German characters, why couldn’t I as an audience member do that with the American actor?

At the same time, directors and casting directors shouldn’t try to try a patron’s imagination too much, as there is only a limit to how much it can allow. For example, the marvelous Simon Russell Beale inexplicably kept his very British accent in Deathtrap despite it being set in New England and the rest of the cast donning or using their own northwest American accents. Some reviews picked up on this and moaned about it, and not without cause. However, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. For me it was actually quiet feasible that his character could be a British ex-pat author, especially as nothing alluded to any particular heritage during the play regarding Russell Beale’s character. But an American among a British cast playing Germans is perhaps that stretch too far, forcing me out of my allowance of imagination just enough to find it bothersome.

Overall the show was very good, and I felt that it would be more than a little inglorious to nit-pick at this, especially as the production was making great strides with its limited capabilities as it was. But accents on stage are by no means just a minor detail as it can turn into a big frustration for theatre goers if neglected.